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Scanners II: The New Order / Scanners III: The Takeover (Blu-ray)

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Scanners II: The New Order / Scanners III: The Takeover (Blu-ray)Starring David Hewlett, Yvan Ponton, Steve Parrish, Liliana Komorowska

Directed by Christian Duguay

Distributed by The Scream Factory


David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi/horror opus Scanners has long been considered a classic amongst horror fans, due in large part to the infamous exploding head scene that occurs during its opening. That effect (crafted by the legendary Dick Smith) has pervaded pop culture even to this day, giving the picture a hook of notoriety that has almost outshined the film itself. The concepts and abilities introduced in that universe practically begged for a sequel… and it got one. In fact, it got a lot of them. And for some reason or another, nobody seems to remember anything about them. I know people who watch the first film regularly, yet they had no clue any further films existed until (who else?) Scream Factory came along to drop a double dose of telekinetic madness on home video. The fact of the matter is that both of these films – Scanners II: The New Order (1991) and Scanners III: The Takeover (1992) – were unceremoniously dumped onto VHS in the early ‘90s, totally bypassing any kind of a theatrical release.

It’s telling that they were produced within less than a year of each other. Truthfully, neither film comes close to matching Cronenberg’s initial vision, but each is kinda awesome in a “terrible ‘90s horror movie” sort of way. There also isn’t a single identifiable actor in either film, which might explain why no one was eager to pick them up for theatrical exhibition. A little gravitas can go a long way, you know? Still, the films do at least adhere loosely to some of the plotting set forth by Cronenberg, with Scanners II tying nicely into the first film via a minor, predictable plot twist while Scanners III takes a let’s-go-nuts approach and almost manages to become a cult classic in the process.

Scanners II: The New Order takes place ten years after the first film, introducing us to David (David Hewlett), a young man who has scanning abilities that he has trouble controlling because he lives in a major metropolitan city. All those minds “talking” at once create a lot of mental congestion in his head. He catches the eye of Commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton), an ambitious leader who wants to assemble a team of scanners to help create a new order in the city. He’s been experimenting on scanners for years, doping them up with a drug called EPH-2 that’s supposed to ease their constant headaches and numb their abilities. But the problem is that it’s highly addictive, leaving most of his scanning team looking like drugged-out extras from the Forbidden Zone out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). His latest find, a wanderer named Drak (Raoul Trujillo), is a volatile scanner who prefers to use his powers for evil; and Forrester needs someone who will play ball. He enlists David, and things go well at first until he learns that Forrester has intentions of eliminating the city’s top officials and inserting himself and other scanners in those high-ranking positions of power. David tries to get out, but Forrester sends Drak and another associate in pursuit. They learn David is hiding at his parent’s house, and they attack while David is out. His father survives, telling David he’s really adopted and that he’s got an older sister living in a cabin by the woods. David sets out to find his sister so that the two of them can storm Forrester’s compound and stop his insane bid to control the city.

The employment of drug addiction as a central plot point was popular in the early ‘90s. The first year of that decade alone saw this film, RoboCop 2, and I Come In Peace, all of which dealt with hardcore drug use and addiction in some way. The ‘90s were a period of reflection, when filmmakers looked back on the party hard days of riding the white pony in the ‘80s and turned the tide by showcasing the dangerous effects of drug abuse. There’s a clear allegory being drawn here by demonstrating how injecting EPH-2 wreaks havoc on the bodies of its test subjects. David, who remains “pure”, avoids these debilitating side effects by learning to cope with his abilities and focus them, rather than taking the easy way out by escaping into a drugged-out release from his constant pain. The notion of creating an elite scanner unit holds some interest, too, but those intentions are never fully realized. It really all boils down to David vs. Drak, which is a rehash of Vale vs. Revok from the last film. And the dude who plays Drak is no Michael Ironside. Forrester doesn’t make for an interesting villain because he’s just a regular dude hung up on power; he isn’t even a scanner. This, when you think about it, makes him pretty damn stupid, since he regularly abuses the exact kind of people he knows are capable of controlling the planet. Would you keep pissing off someone who can make your head explode? Right.

Don’t worry, fans, the series’ trademark cranial eruptions are present here. None of them even comes close to matching the intensity and HOLY SHIT!-ness of the first film’s opening explosion, but there are some mildly commendable effects shown here. Director Christian Duguay doesn’t turn this film into a frantic bloodbath, and there is a nice balance struck between furthering the story and satisfying the bloodlust of fans watching at home. I had hoped the climax would veer into a grandiose showdown between scanners – and it does to a degree – but things could have been punched up a bit more to increase the impact. As it stands, Scanners II is a decent, totally watchable sequel that expands upon the first film’s story while also managing to stand on its own thanks to some new ideas. It’s not great, but it’s good enough.

Scanners III: The Takeover, on the other hand, is a blissful slice of absurdity. The film completely ignores the events and characters of the previous films, only retaining the concept of Ephemerol and its effects on unborn children. At the onset, we’re introduced to Alex (Steve Parrish) and his sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), both of whom are scanners. Scanning is a known trait in society, and Alex is goaded into using his powers as a party trick to impress drunken friends. But as he’s playfully pushing his best friend across the floor using only the power of his mind, someone bumps his shoulder, causing Alex to lose focus and mentally shove his buddy (dressed as Santa) right off his balcony high above the city. The event devastates Alex, so much so that he decides to flee the country and become a monk somewhere in Thailand (sadly, no Scanner Monk spinoffs have followed). In his absence, Helena becomes the sole heir to their father’s pharmaceutical company, a company which happens to produce EPH-3, yet another experimental drug that is intended to alleviate the constant pain scanners suffer. Sure, it’s not even close to being ready for human trails, but Helena doesn’t care so she slaps a patch on her neck to let the drug take effect. It works, but there’s the unfortunate side effect of it making her totally psychotic. And this is where Scanners III gets fun – with Helena using her incredible powers for all kinds of nasty, hilariously wrong antics. As you’d expect, Alex is the only one who can stop her, leading to his return and combat with his mental equal.

You’re a fan. You’ve been watching Scanners films. And you’ve been thinking, “Why haven’t I seen someone use scanning to make their boss do an embarrassing dance in front of a potential client?” Wait no longer friends, because Evil Helena has way too much fun with her powers. Annoying pigeon making noises nearby? BOOM! Someone points their finger in a threatening manner? EXPLODED! Don’t like the doctor’s diagnosis? BLOW HIS HEAD UP! Helena manages to figure out that she can scan people through the television, allowing her to influence a talk show host and his guest into canoodling on stage. And it works on VHS, too! So, now she can broadcast a scan signal to everyone in America. The film’s story is absolute crap, hardly interesting. But it more than makes up for that by unleashing a flurry of nasty little gore gags. One of the best deaths in the movie occurs when someone gets scanned underwater, resulting in a crimson explosion that rises up from the depths like a nuclear test. And there isn’t even enough time to discuss the Thailand kung-fu scanner fight. Suffice it to say, this film runs wild with generating new ways for a scanner to totally destroy people. It’s ridiculous from about 2/3 of the way in all the way up to the end credits. If only they’d had this pace right from the start, it could have been Ninja III: The Domination (1984) epic.

Both films come home with the same a/v specs – a 1.78:1 1080p transfer (which would be the original aspect ratio debut for both titles), as well as an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Scanners II exhibits a heavy layer of grain throughout its running time, an issue that is only exacerbated in dark lighting. The image itself is moderately defined, displaying some crisp lines and a sharp picture for the most part. Faces show an average, unspectacular amount of detail, but flesh tones do appear to be natural and lifelike. The film has a muted color palette, so there aren’t many bright colors that pop off the screen to add some contrast. It looks about on par with any other direct-to-video low-budget flick produced over 20 years ago, to be honest. Scanners III fares about the same, although the grain here does veer into full-on noise territory in a few scenes, chief among them the boardroom meeting. This entry featured more daylight scenes, and the better lighting conditions allow the picture looks sharper and brighter. The print has some noticeable dirt specks that sporadically appear, whereas the print for II looked to be in better shape. On the audio side of things, neither track is impressive by any means. Scanners II actually showcases some good panning effects between the front end assembly, almost managing to mimic surround sound. The moody sax & piano score comes through clear and free from any audio defects. Dialogue is well-balanced in the mix. Scanners III was more of a mixed bag, with some dialogue levels sounding too low in the mix. There’s not much presence, leaving the sound anemic and lacking range. It would’ve been nice to get some low-end support on these films, but considering the rush job done on both for production it’s not surprising they sound like, well, really low-budget productions. Neither film has subtitles.

Also, neither film has extras. “Not even a trailer?” you say? No, not even a trailer.

Although neither film here comes close to matching the first – both in intellect and acting abilities – there’s a certain charm to watching them. Scanners II plays out very much like an expected sequel would, only with a few new elements added in to differentiate it from its predecessor. Scanners III, however, manages to go from being a chore to almost becoming an exploitative gem thanks to some fun gross-out gags that are peppered throughout the abysmally dull plot. Now Scream Factory just needs to get on releasing a twofer of both Scanner Cop films and that’ll wrap up the series on home video.

Special Features:

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    Scanners II: The New Order:

    2 1/2 out of 5

    Scanners III: The Takeover:

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:
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    0 out of 5

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    Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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    Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

    Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


    The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

    The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

    The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

    From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

    The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

    Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

    The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

    • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
    2.0

    Summary

    Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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    Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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    Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

    Directed by Greydon Clark

    Distributed by VCI


    The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

    The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

    The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

    “Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

    A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

    Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

    Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

    There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

    A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

    Special Features:

    • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
    • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
    • Photo gallery
    • Satan's Cheerleaders
    • Special Features
    1.3

    Summary

    Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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    A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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    Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

    Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


    Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

    Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

    Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

    Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

    Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

    A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

    • A Demon Within
    2.0

    Summary

    A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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